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by a young writer of domestic and foreign contemporary art.


An Essay by Ken Kobayashi – Takumi Saito “In the time flowing down”

Bright Shade

The time where you feel as if you’re returning to your true self within the course of the every day, becoming used to being honest. It’s a feeling similar to what you’ve almost forgotten from childhood. Precious but easy to lose, this is why I wanted to draw this in my work.    (Takumi Saito) 

 Without the right amount of water, light conditions, and nutrients, plants are unable to flourish. Light is a particularly important necessity, yet it’s difficult to produce artificially. Consequently, while it’s essential to find a spot which gets the proper amount of sunlight for each plant, for some, “bright shade” is more appropriate. If taken literally, this has to be a place of both light and shadow at the same time, and one wonders what this contradictory brightness is exactly. I tried to imagine such environments as a room with light shining through lace curtains, a place where the sun shines through trees, or a place where the sun shines for a short period of time, but none of them seems to be correct, as the actual illumination would vary considerably if measured. Opening and synthesizing several gardening books, we find that it is apparently a shade that is faintly brightened by indirect sunlight. Even knowing this, it is still difficult to grasp a clear vision of brightness from the phrase “bright shade.” This ambiguity is interesting, as if to say that because plants are bound to die from this vagueness, and we have no choice but to rely on the experience gained from our mistakes. However, situations in which we confront this reality, without being assured of our control over the plant’s life and death, is somehow uncomfortable, as if it allows for a place of distorted feelings.

Takumi Saito, school zone, 2023

 When I first saw Takumi Saito’s paintings, I was grasped by similar feelings. Frankly speaking, it was a bit awkward. I felt hesitant to look at other peoples’ quiet, daily lives, but at the same time, I also felt a perverse happiness in submitting to their irresistible whims. The work is faintly imbued with a complex emotion that is a mixture of the desire to look, longing, nostalgia, and adoration. There is a dangerous innocence, like that of a child who wavers unknowingly between the ambiguous boundary between loving and teasing. The colors are low in contrast, arranged in gentle tones, and the outlines are rounded and simple. The girls’ archaic expression, as if they are thinking of nothing at all, may be due to the simple expression of their eyes, which are merely a combination of solitary and elliptical shapes. The stylized drawing expression functions like lace to soften the awkwardness of Saito’s stealthy gaze. In Roland Barthes’ textual theory, “The Death of the Author,”[1] The death of the author,” the painter’s presence is left out of consideration, allowing the viewer to perceive the work without interference and making it easier to analyze the work itself. Saito’s work, however, does not allow for this. The author is never allowed to die, the ego and line of sight is revealed. Although we can say with certainty that her eyes do not contain any vulgar emotion, we do not deny that there is a small amount of violence inherent in her voyeuristic attitude. The more one tries to forget Saito, the artist, and to look purely at what is depicted in the work, the more one feels awkward, as if one is about to be assimilated into the slight sense of danger that pervades the work. This is a gentle, yet awe-inspiring painting that entangles the viewer. So, let’s untangle it little by little, and first of all, let’s tame this awkwardness.

Takumi Saito, childish, 2023

 Saito paints not only girls, but also empty parks, landscapes of trees, and small toys. Let us start by thinking about those works. It seems that places and things that everyone else overlooks, or never pays attention to, are very attractive to Saito. For a moment, I had the fleeting vision that she might be depicting the scenery beyond the girls’ vague gazes, but I dismissed this idea because these sceneries seem a little too sharp to be superimposed on the girls’ empty gazes and appear to possess the spirit of searching for the “spirit of the place” [2], so to speak. The concept of “Terrain Vague” (vacant land) [3], as described by architect Ignasi Solà de Morales, refers to the vacant land that appears in urban voids, so-called abandoned or unused sites. No matter how functionally and efficiently a city is built, distortions are bound to occur somewhere.  No matter how functional and efficient a city is, distortions are bound to occur. Urban planning is the process of eliminating these distortions, or vacant lots. Solà de Morales describes it as “colonial construction,” and that is exactly what it is. By targeting the “Terrain Vague,” a dormant place abandoned by the usurper called the city, or a place where people are forced to flee, artistic expression brings out the unknown inherent in the city. Saito’s eyes do the same. The playground equipment standing in a deserted and unpopular park without a child interact with it on the playground only reminds us of the absence of the bustle that should have once existed there. Saito does not ask why the place has gone out of use, but rather depicts the absence and the empty unknown that arises in the “Terrain Vague,” a place that cannot be filled. What Christian Norberg-Schulz calls the “spirit of the place (Genius Loci),” is an attitude that contextualizes the history and spirit of a place’s past. The unknown aspect of the “Terrain Vague” is a situation in which the worn “spirit of the place” retains only a few remaining traces. Here, Saito gently captures the image she senses from the “spirit of the place,” which is so faint that only she can perceive it.

Takumi Saito, Shiranai Hiroba, 2023

 Unknown and ambiguous. Let us return to the painting of the girls. Saito does not depict the girls as portraits. They are depicted as “ambiguous” beings who are “not yet” anything. The girls, with nowhere to be, are looking vaguely familiar. But their eyes. There is no light in the eyes of these girls, who are vulnerably exposing their unposed true faces. They are not aware that they are being watched, and even if their eyes were looking at us, they would never “see” us. For the girls in the painting, the absence is Saito and us.  It is impossible for our gazes to meet with something that is not there. If they do not meet, do they bounce off each other instead? The story of Through the Looking- Glass, and What Alice Found There [4] begins with the contrasting portrayal of Kitty, a black cat, and Snowdrop, a white cat. The presence of the two cats imprints on the reader’s consciousness from the beginning the role of a mirror that creates something similar but not identical. Kitty and Snowdrop are a mischievous black cat and a good little white cat, but in the mirror world they are transformed into an pedantic red queen and a somewhat lackluster white queen, inverting the balance between them. The world of the mirror reflects a semblance of reality, but it is still different. The moment Alice enters the world of mirrors, she spins around to show Kitty the world of reflections, reflecting everything in the room in her hand mirror. The moment she enters the mirror world, she realizes that it is different from reality, and instead of being anxious, she is delighted and excited. The world of the mirror image seems to be an exact replica of reality, but it is clearly something else. In his “A Short History of the Shadow,” Victor Stoichitsa discusses how his predecessors after Pliny’s “Natural History” tried to find the origin of painting through shadows and mirrors. He also introduces a passed from Alberti’s “Theory of Painting,” which states … Always, on the other side of what you see, there are shadows…”[5]. If a shadow is cast by the blocking of light striking an object, there is always light reflected on the opposite side of the shadow. Stoichitsa quotes Alberti as being somewhat critical of shadows as being under the control of the mirror paradigm, but even if this is not his intention, this mirroring relationship between light and shadow is suggestive.  Since the line of sight is an exchange of light between the two, the line of sight can only be reciprocated if the two sides facing each other are equally bright.  If one light is too strong, it will only cut out and deprive the object, and in that sense, the act of looking becomes violent. This is why Saito’s paintings are always especially white toned. She keeps her gaze in light and clouds; to point out the bright shade. Stoikitsa draws on Hegel in his preface to “The History of Shadows” [6]. Light and shadow are identical in that neither perfect light nor perfect darkness can be perceived, and it is only when they are in a reciprocal relationship of clouded light and illuminated darkness, respectively, that it is possible to discuss a distinction between the two. Too much light drowns out everything, and the deeper the darkness, the more it swallows everything. The world as seen by the human eye is established quietly in between the two. Saito’s world of paintings exists within the narrow range of brightness allowed to human beings. If dazzling light eventually shines on it, this scene may appear even more dazzling. But then, Saito’s gaze on the girls must be strong as well, or their figures will be drowned out by the light. This intimate place does not need strong light. Even if you can’t bear the awkwardness, don’t look too hard at this fragile and ambiguous place. This is a safe, ambiguous space, a gaping hole in the middle of society, wealth, politics, and all the other troublesome events created by glitzy adults. It is a place where it is permissible to be no one. In the twilight, it is also permissible to pretend to see nothing. Saito’s paintings are about things that are allowed to exist in the bright shade, but are quietly locked away in the painting, unnoticed.


[1] Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Introduction to the Structural Analysis of the Narrative, Translated by Hikaru Hanawa, Misuzu Shobo, (1979).
[2] Christian Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, Translated by Kunio Kato and Yuzei Tazaki, Sumai Library Publishing Company, (1994).
[3] Ignasi Solà de Morales, “Terrain Vague,” Translated by Jun Tanaka, in “Anyplace,” NTT Publishing Co., Ltd., (1996): 128-134
[4] Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, Illustrated by  and Translated by , Esquire Magazine Japan(画:ヤン・シュヴァンクマイエル / 訳:久美里美)、エスクァイアマガジンジャパン、(2006).
[5] Victor Stoichitsa, A Short History of the Shadow,Translated by Atsushi Okada and Kaneshi Nishida, Heibonsha, (2008): 80
[6] Victor Stoichitsa, A Short History of the Shadow, Translated by Atsushi Okada and Kaneshi Nishida, Heibonsha, (2008): 7

Text by Ken Kobayashi
Translation by Elizabeth L. Jesse